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Dark Moon - FINAL - 1600x2400

Preorder for release on March 9 at http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Legal-Thriller-Deborah-Hawkins-ebook/dp/B01BTR8Q44/

CHAPTER ONE

First Weekend of August 2013, Friday Night, La Jolla

She was sitting at the bar, staring at the full moon over the glass-smooth, night-black Pacific. Her back was toward him, but Jim Mitchell could see her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. Her dark hair was very short like a child’s pixie cut, and she was all eyes. They were the saddest brown eyes he had ever seen as they gazed through the window at the blank ocean.

Judging by her long, elegant legs and graceful posture, he guessed she was a model or a dancer. But no, he told himself. Models and dancers don’t hang out at La Jolla’s exclusive Trend Bar in conservative black couture suits and impossibly expensive white silk blouses. She was obviously a business woman. A retired model, he decided, who now ran her own modeling agency. He was glad he’d worn his business casual tan chinos and thrown his navy sport coat over his white oxford shirt. She didn’t look as if sloppy appealed to her.

She was lost in thought, and she didn’t turn when he slid onto the seat beside her. He wondered what such a beautiful woman was doing alone on a bar stool at nine p.m. on a Friday night, and he wondered how many of the losers several stools away had tried to gain the place he now occupied. And he wondered how long she would let him hold it.

“Mind if I sit down?”

“Help yourself.” Her eyes riveted on his, still sad but now guarded. He noticed a long scar snaking across her left cheek. He guessed it must have ended her career in front of the camera. She watched him glance down at her left hand.

“If I were married, I wouldn’t be here.”

“Me, either.” The bartender shifted from one foot to the other, waiting for his order. “Martini, two olives. And may I get something for you? Your glass is just about empty.”

“Another one of my usual.”

Satisfied, the bartender scurried away to earn his tip.

“If he knows your usual, you must come here often.”

“Not an original pickup line. Besides, you had me at ‘mind if I sit down.’ My office is just down the street. I like to come by on Friday night to wind down.”

“But happy hour is long over.”

“I don’t do happy hour. Too crowded.”

“Me, either.”

“Is your office just down the street, too?”

“No. I work out of my home in Pacific Beach.”

“Then why aren’t you in a bar in Pacific Beach?”

“Too loud. Too noisy. And I’m too old.”

He saw the first glint of amusement in her dark eyes. “You don’t look too old.”

“I’m forty-two. That’s too old for twenty-something coeds.”

She laughed, a deep honest laugh that he liked. “I know plenty of men your age who wouldn’t agree with that.”

“They have their preferences. I have mine. If I feel like a drink on Friday night, I drive up here. What about you? You could be down in PB with the party crowd.”

Her eyes became serious, but her tone remained light. “Too old, too.”

The bartender appeared with their drinks, and he noticed her “usual” was red wine.

“To Friday night! I’m Jim Mitchell, by the way.” He held up his glass.

“Sarah Knight.” And she lightly touched his glass with hers.

Afterward he said, “I’m not believing the ‘too old’ stuff about you.”

“Thanks, but it’s true. I’m four years ahead of you.”

“You look ten years behind me.”

She smiled. “I’ve finally reached the point where that’s an advantage.When I first started out as an attorney, no one took me seriously.”

“You’re an attorney?”

“Don’t sound so surprised. Lots of women are these days.”

“No, no. I didn’t mean that. I took you for a former model, now head of her own agency.”

Sarah threw back her head and laughed. “Now that’s a first. Thank you, I think. Ever heard of Craig, Lewis, and Weller?”

“Sure. They’re big time rivals of my old man’s stomping grounds, Cravath, Swain, and Moore.”

“Well, I went with Craig, Lewis out of law school– ”

“Which was Harvard, I bet.”

“Wrong, Yale. And I became a partner in their white-collar crime section eleven years ago.”

“A woman who looks like a model and who does white-collar crime. This has got to be a movie. I would never have guessed.”

She smiled. “I think looking like a kid gave me an advantage in front of juries, particularly with the female jurors.”

“So what brought you to San Diego?”

“I got tired of New York winters.”

“I can relate to that.”

“If your dad was a Cravath partner, you obviously grew up in New York.”

“Well, not in the city. We had the regulation big house in the Connecticut burbs.”

“And you are Jim, Junior, and your father wanted you to follow in his footsteps.”

“Now, I think you’re psychic. James Chapman Mitchell, III. He sent me to Andover because it was his prep school, and he sent me to Brown because it was his college, but I rebelled and went Georgetown because it wasn’t Harvard, his law school.”

“And did you go to work for Cravath?”

“For one miserable year. And then I joined the FBI.”

“It’s difficult to see that as an act of rebellion.”

“As far as my father was concerned, it was.”

“Why’d you pick the FBI?”

“I wanted to put the bad guys away. I thought it would give some meaning to my life.”

“And did it?”

“Too much meaning as it turns out. I got very caught up in my work. Finding a lead in a cold case was like an addiction. But my partner, who was single, had no trouble leaving work at six o’clock to hang out with my wife, who was tired of sleeping alone.Five years ago, Gail handed me the divorce papers and put Josh’s ring on her finger instead of mine.”

“Sounds tough.” Her eyes were unreadable again.

“The toughest part is being away from my son, Cody. He’s thirteen, and I only get a few weeks with him every summer. He’s just gone back to Baltimore where his mother lives. What about you? Ex-husbands? Children?”

“No time. Remember I made partner at a Wall Street firm at thirty-five. I couldn’t date my clients, and I don’t like office romances. That left the dry cleaning delivery boy and the kid who brought Chinese takeout when I got home before midnight. And I don’t do younger men.”

“Darn. And I was just getting ready to proposition you.”

“An ex-FBI agent propositioning a criminal defense attorney? In what universe?”

“This one. I’m a private investigator now. I had to leave the Bureau after Gail married Josh. I saw and heard too much, and I couldn’t take it. I’m still in love with Gail, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“I noticed.”

“I moved out here to get a fresh start. I literally closed my eyes and stuck a pin in the map. And San Diego it was. Here’s my card. I’m really good. You never know when you might need an outstanding gumshoe.”

She took the card in her long, graceful elegantly manicured fingers and studied it for a moment. She seemed to be thinking something over. Finally she said, “Actually, I do need someone.”

“I can’t believe my luck.”

“You might not think that when I tell you about the case.”

“Try me.”

“Do you know who Alexa Reed is?”

“Sure. The daughter-in-law of United States Supreme Court Justice Coleman Reed. She was arrested on June 3 for the murder of her husband, Michael, who was a partner at Warrick, Thompson, and Hayes, and a psychologist, Ronald Brigman. She and Michael were locked in a bitter custody battle for their two children. Brigman seems to have been on Michael’s side. The papers say Alexa was losing custody even though she had given up her career at Warrick, Thompson to be a stay-at-home mom. She snapped and killed Brigman and her ex.”

“I was appointed to represent Alexa today.”

“Wow! That’s going to be a tough one.”

“You have no idea. There’s a lot more, but I can’t talk about it here in public.”

“Of course not.”

“Are you in?”

“Definitely. Hey, I know a great little restaurant where we can talk. Tomorrow night at seven.”

“Ok. And where would that would be?”

“My place. Here’s the address.”

* * *

First Weekend of August 2013 – Saturday Night, Pacific Beach

Her second thoughts about Jim Mitchell began the moment she walked out of Trend, and they continued as she rang the bell at his Pacific Beach bungalow the following night. The house stood out from its beige stucco neighbors in a fresh coat of olive green paint with bright red begonias smiling from the flowerbeds. Not only did he seem strong and wise, seasoned in the ways of the world and his own man, he also appeared to have an artistic streak. She liked him; but, at the same time, she questioned her decision to hire him. This was a new experience for her. She had advanced in the competitive world of Craig, Lewis because she was smart and because she had excellent judgment. She rarely had any reason to think twice once she’d made a decision.

But Jim presented a number of challenges beginning with his dark hair, decisively dimpled chin, and firm, square-jawed good looks. He was six feet, two hundred pounds of well-honed muscle that any woman would have found attractive, and she never dated or slept with anyone she worked with. It was a rule set in stone. And even though Jim’s background meant he knew his way around the tough world of criminal defense, he had the kindest brown eyes she had ever seen. Their empathy tempted her to open up about herself in a way she would never have considered with anyone else. But never looking back was another implacable rule. Finally, his honesty about his responsibility for the loss of his marriage and his love for his former wife surprisingly tugged at her heart, an organ that was nearly impossible to touch after years spent turning herself into one of the toughest lawyers on Wall Street. So Sarah considered telling Jim Mitchell the deal was off as soon as they had settled down to dinner on his charming patio in the remnants of the soft summer evening scented with ocean breeze and night-blooming jasmine.

But she hesitated. He was not the average private detective. Even his dress that night was not average California casual. No slouchy knit shirts and faded jeans. Instead, he wore an I-mean-business blue oxford cloth shirt, sleeves rolled back to the elbows, and impeccable tan linen slacks. Everything about him broadcast confidence and professionalism. If she searched the entire West Coast for an investigator to work on behalf of Alexa Reed, she couldn’t do better than Jim. And loyalty to her client was, according to the cannons of legal ethics, her top priority.

“Where did you learn to cook like this?” She had just tasted the lamb chops in a delicate mustard cream sauce with tiny peas and braised leeks.

“You were expecting steaks from the butane grill.” His eyes teased her.

“Most definitely. You do not look like a sous chef.”

He grinned. “Thank you, I think. My mother came from old money. Her father was an investment banker and a Cravath client. She insisted on having a professional chef. I liked hanging out in the kitchens and learning about cooking. Drove my old man nuts because he was afraid I’d go to culinary school.”

“You’d have been very successful.”

“Doubtless. But in the end, I wanted to catch the bad guys more.” He smiled. “My cooking skills came in handy when I was living on a government salary and couldn’t afford five-star restaurants.”

“And now you can?”

“In theory. My father died three years ago and left me, his only child, his fortune along with my mother’s money. In trust, of course. But the monthly payments have made me financially independent. It’s unlikely I’ll ever need to touch the capital.”

“So why keep working? And on the side of the bad guys?”

“I keep working because I love doing investigations. Every one is a new story, with a new plot, and new characters. And the clients aren’t ‘bad guys.’ They’re innocent people I’m keeping out of prison. I’m still on the side of justice. Tell me about Alexa Reed.”

Sarah sighed and traced patterns on the base of her wine glass with one finger.“In the interests of full disclosure, I should let you know I didn’t want this case.”

“How’d you get it, then?”

“When I left Craig, Lewis and set up shop out here alone, I brought a few clients with me who are based in Los Angeles. One was accused of masterminding a Ponzi scheme, two others were indicted for insider trading, and the fourth was on the hook for racketeering.”

“Isn’t defending clients under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act a speciality of yours?”

She felt herself stiffen and hoped he didn’t notice. “I’ve done a few RICO cases, that’s true.”

“But you won one of the most influential and toughest cases of all time, the Joey Menendez case.”

Sarah’s mouth went dry at the name, and she gulped a sip of wine to make her tongue work. “How’d you know about Menendez?”

“It’s famous throughout law enforcement. You persuaded a jury to acquit the head of the Menendez drug cartel of six counts of murder for hire and twenty counts of extortion. No one ever thought that would happen, including the U.S. Attorney who opposed you. What’s wrong? You look upset.”

“No. Of course not.” But she gripped the base of the wine glass to keep her hands from shaking. He was violating one of her iconoclastic rules: don’t look back. She needed to change the subject quickly. “Anyway, I didn’t want to defend Alexa Reed.”

“So then how’d you become counsel of record?”

“In a word: blackmail. Last month I settled all but one of the four cases I started with. I’ve picked up one or two new ones as I’ve gone along, but they are all out of L.A. I haven’t developed any business in San Diego. So I put my name on the list of attorneys willing to accept trial court appointments for indigent defendants. Yesterday morning, Hal Remington, who heads the appointments panel, called and insisted I come to his office at ten a.m.”

“He couldn’t offer you the case on the phone?”

“Apparently not.” Her hands had stopped shaking, and she paused to fortify herself with a sip of wine.

“So what happened?”

“I found his office in the basement of the old Justice Building on the third try. They’ve hidden it pretty well. Remington turned out to be a scruffy version of Icabod Crane, slouched behind a desk so covered in paper, I doubt he’s ever filed anything in his entire career. He told me he was appointing me on Alexa Reed’s case, and I said no.”

Jim leaned over and poured more Australian shiraz into her class as he asked,“And then?”

“And then he said if I didn’t take the case, I’d never work in this town. He’d personally guarantee it. I didn’t know whether to believe him or laugh in his face.”

“I hope you believed him.”

“What do you mean?”

“People have their own way here. Money and influence talk.”

“But surely they follow the state bar’s ethical rules just like everyone else?”

“Some do. Some don’t. Have you ever heard of Patrick Frega?”

She shook her head.

“He was a San Diego attorney. Back in 1992, he was caught by us feds bribing two very willing superior court judges. They all three got disbarred and sentenced to federal prison. What did you tell Remington after he threatened to blackball you?”

“I told him I couldn’t take the Reed case because I’m not death-qualified in California. Alexa is facing the death penalty because it was a double murder.”

“And then what?”

“Remington said my death qualification in New York was enough, and I’d better take the case. Then he leaned over his desk and said, ‘For a woman who graduated number three in her class at Yale, you’re kind of dense. You’re getting this case because you aren’t qualified, and you’ll lose it because that’s exactly what Coleman Reed wants. He wants the woman who killed his son to die by lethal injection as quickly as possible. You and twelve citizens of this city are going to oblige him. You were hand picked because you look qualified, but you aren’t.”

“He actually said that?”

“I wish I’d been wearing a wire. I asked him what made him think I’d lose; after all, I did graduate number three, and I’m a quick study.”

“And?”

“And he said, ‘Yeah, you were editor of the law review at Yale. Big f’ing deal. That means nothing in this town. I’m It when it comes to handing out defense work. You want to survive professionally? Better not win Alexa Reed’s case.’

“When I reminded him that was unethical, he laughed and said, ‘Then go tell the state bar. You’ll never prove a word out of my mouth. There’s only me and you in this room, and I’ve been appointing lawyers for twenty years. Everyone knows me, but you’re some New York hot shot who doesn’t belong here. It’s my word against yours, and mine will win. Why don’t you go back where you belong?”

“Wow. So you took the case?”

“He made me angry. I could see if I didn’t take it, she’d never get an attorney who’d give her a fair defense.”

“Who represented her at the preliminary hearing?”

“Trevor Martin. I picked up her file from his office yesterday, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. I read his withdrawal motion. He claims his mother has inoperable brain cancer, but I think he just doesn’t want anything to do with Alexa Reed.”

Jim reached over to refill her glass one more time, but she put her hand over it. “No, thanks. I’m driving.”

“You can stay here. I have a guest room.”

She looked through the open french doors into his living room, full of an eclectic mix of old and new furniture, antiques, and Ikea pieces. Maple and mahogany and a few painted chairs and chests here and there. Cozy and comfortable. The kind of room you’d be tempted to put your feet up in and snuggle into a soft throw on the sofa. Jim was probably like that, too. Safe and comforting. She reminded herself she didn’t get close to men like Jim. She had one-night stands with married men, and men she’d never see again. But men who were capable of relationships were dangerous to the self-contained, tightly controlled world she had created.

Her dark eyes locked onto his mellow, softer ones. “No, thanks. And let’s get one rule very clear: I never sleep with anyone I work with.”

“I wasn’t inviting you into my room. There really are two.” He grinned, and the tension broke. “Now, tell me what we’re up against.”

“June 2 was a Sunday night. Meggie, who’s six and Sam, who’s five, were with their father at his house on Mount Soledad in La Jolla. Alexa was alone in her rented place in Pacific Beach. Ronald Brigman, who lived about ten minutes away from Michael, had a surveillance camera recording traffic at his front door. The video footage shows Alexa arriving alone at nine p.m. but doesn’t show her leaving. Brigman was killed around eleven, and Michael was shot about twenty minutes later. Around eleven- fifteen, Meggie’s cell phone called Alexa’s. Alexa’s phone pinged off a cell tower that shows she was close to Ronald Brigman’s when Meggie called. Within ten minutes of the call from Meggie’s phone, Alexa’s cell was dialing 911 from Michael’s house. She told 911 she’d arrived to check on the children and had found him dead. The Glock .9 millimeter used in both murders was registered to her and was found next to Michael’s body. There were two DNA profiles on the gun: hers and Michael’s. Ballistics show five bullets in Brigman, and four in Michael, all from that Glock. That’s all I know so far. I’m meeting with Martin at ten on Monday morning.”

“Do you want me there?”

“No. I don’t expect him to be a witness in her case, and he’ll open up to me better if we’re alone. But I’m going to the jail to see Alexa on Tuesday afternoon. I’ll need you then. Two o’clock”

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Dark Moon - FINAL - 1600x2400

 

Now available for Pre-Order on Amazon with the introductory price of $0.99 – Dark Moon, A Legal Thriller. – Release Date, March 9, 

Legendary criminal defense attorney, Sarah Knight, has spent all of her forty-six years hiding the unspeakable secrets of her past. Now, newly arrived in San Diego from New York, she is appointed to represent Alexa Reed, a former U.S. Supreme Court clerk and the daughter-in-law of Supreme Court Justice Coleman Reed. Alexa is arrested for the murders of her ex-husband, attorney Michael Reed, and La Jolla psychologist, Ronald Brigman. During bitter divorce proceedings, Brigman has declared Alexa’s reports of Michael’s domestic abuse false, has diagnosed her with borderline personality disorder, and has given Meggie and Sam, ages six and five, to their abusive father. Alexa’s gun was the murder weapon and her cell phone places her at the scene of the murders. Sarah is warned that doing anything more than the minimum for her client will be professional suicide. Coleman Reed wants Alexa sentenced to death without delay. But Sarah and her investigator, ex-FBI agent Jim Mitchell, refuse to be intimidated even after attempts on Sarah and Alexa’s lives. They discover Michael Reed’s taste for high-priced call girls and his entanglement in an extensive pattern of criminal financial dealings. But when Coleman manipulates the trial judge to exclude Sarah’s star witness on the eve of trial, she must risk discovery of her own terrible secret to save Alexa’s life.

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It is said that the spaces between the notes make the music.  In the same way, the longing between separated lovers makes the story of their love.

Batumi  is a seaside city and the capital of Adjara, an autonomous republic,  in southwest Georgia.  There, at the edge of the Black Sea, Georgian artist  Tamara Kvesitadze  has created the 26-foot tall, moving sculpture called “The Statue of Love.” Her steel creation is based on the tragic love story of Ali and Nino, a Muslim boy and Georgian Christian girl who were separated by the coming of World War I and the Russian Revolution. Nino fled to Paris with the couple’s child while Ali joined the defense of Azerbajan and was killed when the Red Army invaded in 1918. The novel by Kuban Said, a Dr. Zhivago– style epic, was published in 1937.

At seven p.m. each evening, the computer-controlled statues move slowly toward each other in a spectacular light show, They join briefly in a passionate kiss, and then pass through each other,  leaving the beloved behind.  When I saw this video, I wished I could send it to Unhappy Reader, whose dissatisfaction with Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks, I explained in my last post.   Perhaps viewing the video of “The Statue of Love”  would explain the story of Carrie Moon and Stan Benedict to Unhappy Reader in a way my words apparently failed to do.

At the beginning of Ride, an invisible force seems to draw Stan and Carrie toward each other evening after evening in Jazz By the Bay, just as the statues move toward each other in the twilight by the sea in Batumi.  Carrie thinks she is drawn toward Stan and his artistry as a musician without realizing her obsession stems from her need to recover her own inner artist and musician, the persona she left behind when she became a lawyer. Although Stan fights his attraction to Carrie because he thinks love never lasts for him, her unconditional support shines like a beacon in his emotional darkness and draws him closer and closer, just as the computers driving “The Statue of Love” move the lovers irresistibly toward each other in the twilight.

Stan and Carrie meet in a passionate embrace, like the the lovers in the “Statue of Love.” But they, too, literally pass through each other, as the pressure of their very different lives drives them apart.  Stan’s insecurities lead to muffing his chance  to become a big name musician in Los Angeles.  Carrie finds she cannot sustain the pressure of her legal career and the demands of wife and soon-to-be mother.

Tragedy strikes, moving Stan and Carrie apart, like the moving figures in the “Statue of Love.”  Years pass like the hours that pass before the computer activates the moving figures in Batumi once again.  And then, just as the computer switches on at the appointed time, the Universe moves Carrie and Stan toward each other once again, this time to learn love’s greatest lesson of all.

To view the magnificent spectacle of the “The Statue of Love” at twilight go here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ds9fE0tnzE

To purchase a copy of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks, click the link on the side bar of this website.  And let me know if you agree or disagree with Unhappy Reader.

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This week I heard from a reader. I do not often hear directly from readers, but the ones who have written up until now have sent good news: they enjoyed Dance for A Dead Princess or Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks. Until this week, the ones who didn’t like my books, either left words to that effect in Amazon reviews, or remained silent. No one took me to task in a long, personal email.

But this week, a reader not only left a negative review on Amazon, she wrote me a long email outlining everything she thought was wrong with Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks. And I could immediately tell that she didn’t “get” the story. She had received a free copy as part of a Read and Review program, and I’m sure she was under the impression that Ride was a formula romance novel. And, reading between the lines, she was upset, outraged might be a better word, because there were no explicit sex scenes in Ride and because Ride is an honest look at how difficult love can be and how we sometimes find lost pieces of ourselves in the people we believe we love and hang on at all costs. Ride is a complex book. It does not say hot sex equals undying love. I know that is theme of formula romance. But I was not writing formula romance in Ride, to the chagrin of Unhappy Reader.

I have come to feel that, as a female writer, all of my work has to overcome the presumption that because a woman wrote it, it is formula romance. When I set up promotions on the various ebook promotions sites, I often have the Hobson’s choice between “Romance” and “Contemporary Fiction.” I consider both of my books to be “Women’s Fiction” although even that label does not immediately remove my novels from the formula romance presumption. While Dance for a Dead Princess does have some elements in common with formula romance, as Diane Donovan of the Midwest Review observed, it goes far beyond formula fiction.   In my day job, as an attorney, I deal with the presumption of innocence, which, frankly, is more akin to a presumption of guilt. And I have come to feel, in my night job, as a fiction writer, that any book for a female audience carries the formula romance presumption.  And when it doesn’t live up to that presumption, some readers, like Unhappy are, to put it frankly, outraged.  Hence her personal email critique.

What is formula romance, you are asking at this point. Good question. The roots of formula romance have impeccable literary credentials. The unforgettable Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and the equally charming Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin are the ancestors of the modern romance novel. In both books, a heroine of little fortune marries a man of means for love and not for pure social advantage.  In archetypal terms, the Cinderella trope.   The plots of both books center around the barriers between the hero and the heroine and how these are ultimately resolved. Jane Eyre attempts to resolve a moral issue, a married man in love with a young women of little means but great love and virtue. Pride and Prejudice is a comedy of manners, poking subtle fun at the mating conventions of the day. The hero overcomes his pride of position to marry the young woman of great love and virtue but little fortune. From these outstanding beginnings, modern-day formula romance has evolved (or devolved) into predictable plot lines, which are resolved in fifty-thousand words or less. (Unhappy complained that Ride, at 100,000 words was just too long, and she was sooooo bored. My advice: if a book bores you, stop reading it.  It’s like  hitting yourself in the head:  it feels so good when you stop.)

In the modern formula romance, Hero, with six-pack abs, which he miraculously unveils within five pages of the opening, (and which are always on the cover), has sex with Heroine in Chapter One. Notably, they are both strangers. By Chapter Two, the glow of orgasm has faded, and they realize they have made a huge mistake. Like two mature adults, they immediately fight and vow never to see each other again. Then, for twenty-something more chapters, the two vacillate between their determination not see each other and their determination to have more sex, which is described in excruciating detail in alternating chapters. Fight a chapter, F– a chapter. (You get what I mean.)

On this solid and mature foundation for a marriage, Heroine winds up with a very large diamond on her finger, since Hero not only has that six-pack, but he is also great hubby material because he is good in bed and, more importantly, he has revealed he is not a simple ranch hand but the owner of most of Texas (or is a prince of a European state determined to restore its monarchy). Formula romances  close with a wedding or an epilogue showing a happily pregnant Heroine.

These books sell well to readers like Unhappy, so Clever Author multiplies this storyline like rabbits, varying the setting and the characters’ names, but never the plot. And if Author is even More Clever (or Diabolical, you decide) the original book will have a Heroine or Hero with ten brothers and sisters, each of whom will star in a subsequent formula romance. These books are easy to spot on the ebook promo sites because, in addition to male six-packs on the cover, they all have titles that include the word “Series” or “Chronicles.” “Book One of The Thornton Family Chronicles” Or “Book Three of the McLaren Brothers’ Brides Trilogy.” Or “Book Twenty-five of the Sisters of Seven Corners Series.” You’ve seen them. You know what I mean.

Not to be rude, but I run from these cookie-cutter books like the plague. They remind me of those clear plastic sleeves of chocolates that you can buy at Costco at Christmas. Year after year, the blue ones are milk chocolate with Kahlua centers, the pink ones are dark chocolate with an unidentified green cream inside, and the gold ones contain an unknown liqueur that might be brandy. Might. Many of these literary formula offerings have no ending, so that if a reader wants to know what happened to Hero and Heroine (does tragedy strike? does he lose that six-pack and therefore the girl? does he become King Travis the 25th of MoldyDisheveia), she has to buy “Books Two through Thirty of the Hot Brothers of MoldyDishevia Series.” And Extremely Clever Author laughs all the way to the bank. And gets featured as an Amazon Bestselling Extremely Clever Author in the Amazon Newsletter. (Read their newsletter if you don’t believe me.) Oh, and the piece de resistance, Author gets a lifetime guarantee of ads on the obnoxious Book Bub, which mainly features trashy formula romance with those hot-sex covers. But that is another blog post.

At any rate, I have come across a beautiful video that explains visually what Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is all about. I will explain in my next post and show you the video to see what you think. Is there room in the world for a woman writer to write a book that is not formula romance?   In the meantime,  my deepest thanks to my readers who did “get” it, and my undying gratitude to those who left reviews explaining exactly what they “got.”  I am forever in your debt and humbled by being allowed to entertain you in 100,000, I promise, well-chosen words.

And now, one last word to Unhappy. Despite your email statement to me making light of the loss of a child, losing a child is one of the most tragic events of anyone’s life. It is a tragedy that no one completely recovers from. The only thing offensive about you email, was your statement that “losing a child is no big deal.” Wrong, Unhappy. Very, very wrong, on that one. Formula romance books are fungible. Children are not.

Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is not a book for every reader. It is a book for anyone who wants to laugh and cry,  for anyone who is willing to be frustrated by characters that life has broken and healed and broken again,  and for anyone who is willing to look inside and love your own, beautiful and utterly unique soul. Ride is a challenge that not everyone will want to meet. But that’s just fine by me.

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CHAPTER TWENTY

January, 1995

That night, Carrie went to the club with a light heart. She had signed off on the Harper deal. Alan was ecstatic and had forgotten the prospectus disaster of the morning.

Publically she had set February twenty-third as the date for the Harper sale; privately she had set March first for her resignation from the firm.
Stan was playing especially well that night, and Lara was nowhere in sight. They went home after the show and made love in the soft glow of the winking yellow light.

Afterward, Carrie cuddled next to him and said, “I reached a very important decision today.”

He gave her a tired, half-smile in the dark. “Did you? How about telling me in the morning. I’ve been up since five a.m.”

“I know. But something really important happened today. I need to tell you.”

He sighed. “Ok. But don’t blame me if I fall asleep in the middle.”
She knew he was tired, but she had hoped for more interest. She considered waiting until morning, but he would probably sleep in, which meant she would have to go to work and wouldn’t be alone with him again until this time tomorrow night.

She began by telling him about the numbers mixup in the prospectus, but halfway through he interrupted. “Look, I get you made a big mistake because your mind hasn’t been on your work lately. You can skip the details of who said what and why it matters. It probably happened because you aren’t getting enough rest, either. You don’t have to come down to the club every night of the week.”

A knot formed in Carrie’s stomach. First he didn’t really want to hear what she had to say. Now he was suggesting she give up the part of the day that she lived for. She tried to keep her voice calm, but she knew the rising tide of emotion inside her made her tone sharp. “That’s not what I meant! I want to be at the club as much as I can. I don’t have enough time to be with you as it is.”

Stan rolled over to face her in the dark. “So you’re complaining I don’t spend enough time with you?”

“No, oh no.” She hadn’t foreseen the discussion going so terribly wrong. “I wasn’t being critical of you.”

“Well, I hope not!” he muttered and turned his back to her.

Despair griped her like a rip tide. She tried again, “Would you just hear me out?”

He sighed and replied without changing position, “Do we really have to do this tonight? I’m tired. Whatever I’m not doing that you want me to do, I’ll deal with it tomorrow.”

“I wasn’t going to ask you to do anything.”

Irritated, he rolled over and faced her again. “Are you sure about that? Weren’t you going to ask me to spend more time with you?”

Carrie was taken aback by his anger. And she hadn’t expected him to guess at least part of the purpose of her plan. “Well, I suppose in a way I was going to ask that. But the thing is, I wasn’t going to ask you to change what you’re doing.”

“Then how do I find any more time to be with you?” he demanded as if the whole idea was completely unreasonable.

“Because we’ll have more time, in general, together. I’m going to resign from the firm on March first.”

Stan sat up and turned on the bedside light. He rubbed his eyes as if everything about their conversation was a colossal trial. “I’m sorry, Carrie. I can’t deal with anything like this tonight. I’m exhausted. I’ll go sleep on the couch.”

“No! Don’t do that!” she reached out to keep him from leaving. “I won’t say anything more about it tonight.”

Placated, he switched off the light and lay down again with his back toward her. Carrie turned her own back to him and let the tears fall slowly and silently into her pillow. She had hoped he would feel the same joy in her decision that she had. Instead, he didn’t seem to care or understand what was driving her to change her life. Finally, exhausted by the day and her emotions, she fell asleep.

She woke with a start two hours later. The beside clock said three a.m. Stan’s side of the bed was empty. From the living room, she could hear the hum of the television.

Alarmed, she got up, pulled on her robe, and went to investigate. He was sitting in his usual corner of the sofa, a glass of wine in his hand and a half empty bottle at his feet.

He looked up when she came in and frowned. “Go back to bed.”

“Can’t you sleep? I thought you were tired.”

“I am. But I started thinking about what you said, and I couldn’t drop off.”

“You mean my quitting Warrick, Thompson upsets you?” She had never expected that response from him.

“Absolutely. You’re giving up ten years of success in your career just to follow me around all day. Do you know how that makes me feel?”

“How?” She was so surprised she could barely speak.

“Horrible. Trapped. Responsible.”

“Responsible to whom?”

“To you!” he snarled.

Carrie felt the world slowly dissolving around her. “But I thought we loved each other. I thought we wanted to be responsible to each other.”

Stan shook his head impatiently. “I can’t say what I feel right now except trapped.”

“But, Stan, I want to quit. I hate what I do. It’s boring and mindless and soulless.”

“It pays the bills. Rather well,” he snapped.

“True. But money isn’t the most important part of life.”

“See if you think that when you start going short every month!”

Carrie paused and tried to size up the situation. Finally she observed, “That sounds like resentment.”

“Oh, that’s a good one! Now I resent you because you make three times what I do, and you want to throw it away to spend all day in bed with me!”

“Wouldn’t you like that? I mean, wouldn’t you like to spend days together, not just in bed, but walking by the bay, having lunch in the cafes, shopping together?”

“There won’t be time if you quit you’re job. We’ll both be waiting tables day and night to make up for the money we won’t have.”

Carrie stared at him. “But I’m going back to music. I’m going to play again.”

“Oh, great. And you think Harry’s going to give you a gig at the club.”
“He’s offered. More than once.”

“Well, even if he does, you’ll find what Harry pays isn’t nearly enough. Want to live like that?”

“I – I ” Carrie stared at the bottle at this feet. “No, I don’t want to live like that. But I don’t want to live like this either.”

“And that means?”

“Walled up alive in the firm, wondering what you’re doing all day and who you’re doing it with.”

“Is this about me and Lara?”

“Yes – at least in part. I mean, it’s about you and anyone you have time for when I would so much rather be with you.”

Stan’s voice took on a low, nasty, insinuating tone. “You just don’t get it, do you? You think you can keep me from seeing Lara if you quit your job and ride herd on me all day?”

“I – no.” But hadn’t she unconsciously meant to do exactly that? The truth of what he was saying spread over her sickeningly.

“Do what you want!” Stan exploded, getting up from the sofa and heading toward the hall where a coat tree held his jacket. “Just don’t expect me to be your willing prisoner!”

Carrie ran toward him and grabbed his sleeve as he opened the front door. “Wait, Stan! Don’t go out now. It’s dark, and it’s cold, and it’s late. Please just come to bed. I’m sorry. I thought this would be good news. I didn’t mean to upset you. I thought you’d want to spend more time with me, too. Please, don’t go!”

But he had already slammed the door behind him.

The entire ebook of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is available for purchase at Amazon. com, http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Your-Heart-Til-Breaks-ebook/dp/B00RDJQB8Q.  Deborah is also the author of the award-winning novel, Dance For A Dead Princess, http://www.amazon.com/Dance-For-Dead-Princess-ebook/dp/B00C4HP9I0

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CHAPTER NINETEEN

January, 1995

The Harper Biotech deal hit a sudden snag during the end of January. The accountants decided the company’s assets had been overvalued and ordered a new look at all their holdings to see if the proposed stock split would survive Securities and Exchange Commission scrutiny. Karen cooled her heels in her office for a week, waiting impatiently for them to agree on their final numbers.

But as she sat by her telephone day after day, she wasn’t holding her breath for the call from the Harper accounting department. Instead, she was thinking non-stop about Stan. Where was he? What was he doing? Who was he with?

She knew his habits well enough during the evening and the first hours of dawn, but she had little idea what he did with himself while she was at work. Pictures of Stan with Lara Beaumont began to torment her. Did they sleep together? Eat in the small cafes around 4th and G? Walk by the bay? The thought of Lara doing everything she wanted to be doing with Stan herself was pure torment.

The Harper executives got their numbers together and demanded almost non-stop meetings in the last days of January. Karen sat through seemingly endless discussions about asset values, the corporate pension plan, and executive compensation. She tried to focus as the suits argued with each other, but her mind was on Stan.

Alan came into her office, white-faced the morning after the most heated Harper exchange yet. They wanted an absolute guarantee from Karen that the numbers they had put together would support the stock deal. She knew she had to give an opinion; but her thoughts had been elsewhere during the debate, so she put them off to everyone’s great displeasure.

“What’s going on?” Alan demanded as he closed her office door, always a bad sign. He threw a proof of the stock prospectus on her desk. It landed with an ominous thud.

I’m not going to talk about Stan and my private life, she told herself as she prepared for the confrontation. She expected Alan to berate her for her evasion the day before. She picked up the prospectus and immediately felt her face go as white as Alan’s. “Oh, no!”

“Exactly! The asset and debt numbers are transposed. According to this, Harper is ready for bankruptcy, not a stock deal. How in the hell did you let this happen, Karen?”

By obsessing over Stan and Lara Beaumont. Keep your composure, she reminded herself. Stan is not the only one trained as a performer. Even if it’s bad, make it look good. “It happened because there have been too many changes coming at me too fast.” Not a bad lie, she reflected. “These haven’t gone out to anyone.”

“No one from Harper has seen them?”

“No.” She said a silent prayer of thanks as she spoke. The Harper people hadn’t been happy when the proofs weren’t handed to them yesterday. She was weak with relief that she had obeyed her instincts against Harper’s displeasure.

Alan became visibly calmer. “Then let’s round these up and destroy them and get the correct ones in the client’s hands as fast as we can.”

“Not a problem.” She just wanted Alan out of her office, so she could drop her professional mask and let herself feel the terror and relief sitting side by side in her heart.

He opened the door but turned before he left. “Are you going to give them an opinion today? Can this deal go forward? If you don’t give them an answer, they’re going to pull out and take this back to their usual securities counsel in New York. Make up your mind, Karen.”

As soon as the door closed, she folded her arms on her desk and put her head down. She wanted to cry, but she might be discovered. She had come within a tenth of an inch of ruining not only her chance for partnership, but her career. If Harper had seen those transposed numbers, she would never have lived it down.

I have to get myself together. I have to make some decisions. I don’t have enough time to spend with Stan. I don’t even know what he does all day, and it’s driving me crazy. And I hate this job. I hate this place and this firm, and Alan Warrick’s smug, self-righteous face. I’m only a money-making machine to him.

Her thoughts raced like a runaway freight train. She stared out of her glass walls at the city and the bay below and waited until her emotions began to clear.

She wanted to jump up and run straight back to the loft and into Stan’s arms. If he was even there at ten a.m. He’d played another early morning gig on a different television station also with Lara, and she imagined them now lingering over brunch. Whenever she objected to those after-gig rendevous, Stan reminded her indignantly of Lara’s connection to Deanna.

An aircraft carrier was moving slowly across the bay, accompanied by its helicopter escort. Karen watched its stately progress as she considered what to do.

Lately Stan had taken to sitting up alone, sometimes after they made love, sometimes as soon as he got back from the club. He would sit with a bottle of wine in front of the pointless blue glow of the muted television.

I need to spend more time with him, she thought. He’s alone too much. And seeing him on stage at night and for a few hours between midnight and dawn isn’t enough to know what’s really going on. We need more time together. Lots more time.

Something had to change in her life, she decided as she saw the big ship round the bend by Point Loma, break free of the chopper escort, and move into the open ocean. I have to break free, too. Something has to go. Stan or Warrick Thompson. The choice was easy.

The decision sent a wave of pure joy through Karen. She turned back to the Harper deal on her desk, her mind now focused on the legal issues in front of her. I’ll see this through, and then I’ll tell Alan I’m leaving.

And what will you do, then? A voice in her head spoke up.

Karen smiled. Music. I’ll go back to music. I’ll take Harry up on his offer to play at the club. I’ll work as hard at something I love as I do at this stuff that I dearly hate. Stan won’t be able to say I’m not a performer. And he’ll look at me on stage the way he looks at Lara Beaumont.

Karen summoned her secretary. “Tell Alan we can meet with the Harper executives this afternoon to give them the green light on this deal. And make sure every one of those faulty prospectuses is in the shredder within thirty minutes.”

The entire ebook of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is available for purchase at Amazon. com, http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Your-Heart-Til-Breaks-ebook/dp/B00RDJQB8Q. Deborah is also the author of the award winning novel,Dance For A Dead Princess, http://www.amazon.com/Dance-For-Dead-Princess-ebook/dp/B00C4HP9I0

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

January, 2008

Judge Karen Morgan flew back to San Diego alone on January 3, 2008. Her husband Howard and Meg Atkins took a flight to Philadelphia. As Karen watched them walk toward their gate, her thoughts were on her answering machine and whether, by some miracle, it contained a message from Stan.

* * *

January, 1995

January of 1995 had begun with Alan Warrick’s delight over a public offering for another new client, Harper Biotech. Alan hovered in Karen’s office day after day, obsessed with every detail.

“Huntfield Harper is a friend of the Burnett family. He heard about their deal and decided not to take his business to New York. Harper isn’t like Burnett. His company has been public for ten years. They’ve done a lot of stock offerings. This is a stock split. They’ll expect the best from us.”

“And they’ll get it, Alan. Don’t worry.” First rule of law firm life, never let them know you’re afraid, Karen Moon thought as she smiled at Alan. But she was worried about this file because her mind was on Stan and Lara Beaumont.

He had begun the round of morning television appearances that Harry had finagled through his contacts at the local TV stations. Although he hated getting up early, Stan loved the publicity.

On those early January mornings, she risked getting to work late in order to see him. Some days, she was lucky enough to hear him and still reach the office before Alan missed her. On other days, Stan was the last to perform; and she arrived to find Alan pacing her threshold like an angry bull about to charge.

“What’s going on? This is the third time this week you haven’t shown up until nine thirty.”

“Nothing is going on, Alan,” she lied. She was becoming an expert at deceit. “I was here past mid-night. I needed some sleep.”

A half-truth because she hadn’t been continuously at her desk. She had dashed to the club for the last set at eleven and then returned to the office to check the documents out of overnight secretarial at midnight. She had been in bed with Stan by one.

Defeated, Alan slunk away. But he hated to lose. He’d be back for round two, Karen reflected as she stared at the piles of paper on her desk.

Lack of concentration was her biggest problem. Ever since Stan had told her the truth about his relationship with Lara on New Year’s Eve, she had been tormented by worries that they spent the days together while she was at the office. Lara kept showing up at the club in the evenings; and, despite knowing how much Carrie didn’t want him to, Stan always invited her on stage for at least one number.

As Carrie sat at her table during their performances, her smile pasted on, she heard whispering around her. Some people thought they were a married couple, and they did have the air of people who’d been together for a long time.

“Don’t tell me how to run my life or my career!” Stan shouted when she brought the subject up late one night in mid-January. They had just come home after the last show, but Stan was restless and full of adrenalin and not ready to sleep.

Carrie, on the other hand, was exhausted. She had to be in the office by eight the next morning. “I just don’t like the way she upstages you.”

“She doesn’t upstage me! What would you know about that anyway? You’re a lawyer not a performer. You don’t even know what the term means.”

The barb was meant to go deep, and it did. Stan saw her tears but ignored them.

“You’re better off without her,” Carrie insisted. “She’s only a mediocre vocalist at best.”

“She’s a performer. You’re not.”

He had wanted to hurt her, and he had. Carrie went into the bedroom, undressed, and got into bed. Even though Stan was just on the other side of the wall, he seemed as remote as the stars.

* * *

January, 1995

Stan left for his gig on Early San Diego at six a.m. Carrie walked him sleepily to the door of the loft, kissed him goodbye, and went into the kitchen and made coffee. She was too impatient to wait for the pot to brew, so she grabbed the first drips with her mug and gulped them down. Her head ached; and she still felt hollow inside, the way she had felt after their quarrel last night.

As she sipped the hot, black liquid, her eyes roved over the living room and rested on the familiar objects Stan used so much that they seemed a part of him. The piano occupied the corner under the window. Trumpets and mouthpieces were carefully arranged on the cheap metal table near by. The stereo equipment and cherished album collection sat on particle board shelves on the back wall.

His soul was visible in the instruments and the recordings he loved. Stan Benedict wore no mask. She could see into his soul simply by looking around the room.

She walked over and ran her finger tips over the piano, the trumpets, and the stereo, absorbing the aura of Stan that lingered in each. The living room clock said seven. She didn’t want to miss his performance. She walked over to the television and flipped on Early San Diego. She wished he would be one of the first up so that she could make it to the office before Alan came in at nine.

But luck was not on her side that morning in more ways than one. Not only was Stan slotted for eight thirty; but when he finally appeared, he had Lara Beaumont at his side, radiant in white sequins.

* * *

The club was full that night. Stan’s roving eye delighted not only the usual Table of Four but a New Table of Women in evening dresses on the front row. He played the first set almost exclusively for them.
Carrie knew what it meant. He was daring her to pick a quarrel over Lara. She hadn’t mentioned it in their brief telephone call that afternoon, merely telling him he sounded great. He rarely telephoned Carrie at work, and she felt certain he had called so she would complain about Lara. But she failed to mention her, so Stan raised the subject.

“I’m glad you liked my playing. What did you think of Lara’s tune?”
“You know what I think about her. We don’t agree, so there’s no point in talking about it.”

“If that’s what you want.” He sounded disappointed.

“It is what I want. I’ll see you at the club tonight.”

And she had hung up, certain Stan had called to renew the previous’ nights emotional split.

Carrie went on stage at the break to head off any thought Stan might have had of sitting at the New Table of Women while he drank his scotch. She didn’t want him to succeed at creating another quarrel after the show.

Typical of Stan in his provocative phase, he didn’t join her right away. He kept his back to her endlessly emptying his spit valve and arranging and rearranging his flugel horn for the next set. While she waited, Harry came up beside her. His uncomplicated smile was a welcome relief.

“How’s the show tonight?”

“Terrific. Your ad campaign is paying off. The place has been full all week.”

Harry grinned. “Yeah, I know.” But his face clouded as he asked, “Have you been watching Stan on those TV spots?”

“Sure.”

“And what did you think?”

“That he’s better performing without Lara.”

Harry nodded. “He has to accommodate her lack of ability.”

“Funny you should say that. I told him the same thing last night at home after the show.”

“What did Stan say?”

Carrie told him about the fight.

“I wish she’d go back to one of her cruise ships.” Harry said. “Don’t give up on him, Carrie Moon. He needs you.”

But as Harry walked away, she sighed under her breath, “I wonder.”

The entire ebook of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is available for purchase at Amazon. com, http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Your-Heart-Til-Breaks-ebook/dp/B00RDJQB8Q. Deborah is also the author of the award winning novel,Dance For A Dead Princess, http://www.amazon.com/Dance-For-Dead-Princess-ebook/dp/B00C4HP9I0

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